Muslim Syrians are living in squalid conditions in a non-UNHCR refugee camp in Lebanon that is supported by a Melkite Catholic community. Photo courtesy CNEWA Canada

Matching funds for Syrian relief ending

  • February 27, 2016

OTTAWA - As peace continues to elude wartorn Syria, Canadian Catholics are being asked to remain in solidarity with those ravaged by the conflict.

“The Syrian people have suffered so much over these past five years,” said David Leduc, executive director of the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace. “As the nation becomes ever more mired in crisis, the civilian population is suffering horrendous violence on a daily basis.

“Canadians’ acts of solidarity are needed more than ever, both to provide assistance and to call for a peaceful solution to the conflict,” he said. “We hope that Canadians will continue to show their solidarity towards the approximately 4.3 million Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries and the millions of others still in Syria.”

Development and Peace, Aid to the Church in Need Canada and the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA) Canada joined forces with Canada’s Catholic bishops last fall to raise urgently needed funds for Syrian refugees. It’s hoped that Catholics will give generously to help those suffering from the war’s effects before Feb. 29, the deadline for up to $100 million in matching government funds for the Canadian Syrian Relief Fund.

Leduc hopes Catholics will help Development and Peace — the Canadian bishops’ international development organization — meet its goal of raising $3.5 million by then. By mid-February, it had raised $2.2 million.

Leduc pointed out 13.5 million Syrians have required immediate humanitarian assistance.

“That’s roughly a third of our own population here in Canada, to give you an idea, roughly, of the scale,” he said.

Humanitarian projects Development and Peace has helped fund have included distribution of medical supplies, winter supplies, basic household items, food vouchers, housing assistance and educational activities for children.

Aid to the Church in Need has raised $415,305 so far for projects that include helping displaced persons in Syria with housing, winter clothing and baby supplies, said national director Marie- Claude Lalonde. Through the local churches it has helped fund reconstruction projects in the Syrian cities Yabroud and Homs where some Christians have returned.

Lalonde says her agency “stands by Christians who choose to reinvest in the land Christians have inhabited since the beginning of Christianity, despite the ongoing war.”

“We need everything,” she said. “All basic necessities have to be covered. This is going to be a struggle for a long period of time.”

They are hearing more and more reports of starvation being used as an act of war, she said.

“We’re currently providing clothes, shoes, food and toiletries for 250 orphans from the region of Homs, soap and sanitary products for more than 400 families, and now we’re trying to build or rebuild a school for almost 1,000 pupils,” she said.

Aid to the Church in Need is also assisting in the basics of food, shelter, medicines, electricity for 5,000 people in Aleppo, providing 5,000 pairs of pajamas for kids, all distributed by the churches in the area, mostly by religious sisters.

So far CNEWA Canada has received almost $900,000 in donations it has directed mainly to those in need inside Syria or in neighbouring Jordan and Lebanon.

“The funds raised will provide emergency supplies, such as necessities for babies, food, water, heaters, clothing and blankets,” said CNEWA Canada national director Carl Hétu. “The donations will also help with education as children have often missed up to three years of schooling, health care to assist with conditions such as depression, cancer, stroke, heart issues and diabetes, along with spiritual support such as catechetical programs for Christian families.”

Hetu, Lalonde and Leduc stressed the Feb. 29 deadline does not mean people should stop giving to Syria after that.

In coming months, Leduc said the focus will be on trying to reach the Syrians who are blocked off in areas under siege.

Hétu also appealed to Catholics to pray during Lent for an end to the war and for the success of ongoing peace talks in Geneva.

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